She met him just as hungrily. He laced his fingers with hers, trapping the backs of her hands up against the silk of the wallpaper, high above either side of her head. His body covered hers, big and hard and hot, pressing against her as though they were seconds away from making love right here in the corridor.

And itwouldbe love, damn him. As much as Bianca tried not to admit it, her feelings for him were nothing so simple as mere lust. She wanted to writhe in his arms and then sleep nestled against his chest. She wanted to share the marmalade with him at breakfast and pour his tea at nuncheon. She wanted—

He tore his mouth from hers, panting. “No. I can’t.”

“Can’t what? Kiss me? You were doing a mighty fine job.”

“Can’t hurt you.” He touched his forehead to hers.

She frowned. “It didn’t hurt.”

“It will.” He dropped her hands abruptly and stepped back, raking a hand through his wavy ginger hair. “That must be our last kiss, Bianca. I told you, I cannot marry you.”

“I didn’t ask for marriage.” But that was what she wanted, wasn’t it? The marmalade, the tea, the cozy nights before a fire. She didn’t want to be Harry’s secret mistress. She wanted to be his wife.

“You didn’t ask for any of this. Neither did I. And yet…” He rubbed a hand over his face, then visibly forced himself to meet her eyes. “I’m going to marry Lady Regina.”


Bianca stared at Harry with her heart in her throat. Of all the women he could marry, if it couldn’t be her… Why did it have to be the insufferable Lady Regina?

Tina’s voice came from down the corridor. “Bianca?”

As she whirled around to face her friend, Bianca did her best to paste a smile on her face.

Tina did not look convinced. “Are you all right?”

Bianca glanced over her shoulder. Harry was gone. She was alone.

And it seemed she would stay that way.

“I’m fine,” she lied.

Tina walked up to join her. “What did he do?”

“Who?” Bianca stammered. “I just… The water closet… ”

Tina gestured over her shoulder. “The water closet is in the opposite direction.”

Bianca sighed and rubbed her temples. “He says he’s marrying Lady Regina.”

Tina did not look surprised. Only sympathetic. “Father is forcing him to.”

Bianca scoffed. “How can your father force Harry to do anything? He’s a grown man, and he’ll inherit the marquessate regardless of his father’s wishes.”

“He’ll also inherit generations of debt. Unless he marries an heiress. Trust me, he’d rather hurl himself from the cliffs of Dover.” Tina shrugged, as if this were the most obvious and ordinary consideration to make when selecting a bride.

Bianca stared at her. “Harry doesn’t even like Lady Regina?”

“He can’t stand her. It’s probably mutual. She wants his title and the right to boast about taming the notorious Huntsman. He wants her dowry. Polite Society considers that a fair trade.”

“He doesn’t even like Lady Regina,” Bianca repeated. She wasn’t sure if that made the situation better or worse. Perhaps a little of both.

Tina lifted a shoulder apologetically. “We need money. She has it. Her parents are almost as wealthy as yours were.”

“My mother didn’t—”

“Sorry, I meant your father. The Earl of Quinseley had more money than God, according to… well, everyone.”

Tags: Erica Ridley Historical
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